What it’s like to come out in N.H. during the pandemic, online and in person
When COVID first hit, Jules Good, 22, found themselves alone in their 180-square foot house in the New Hampshire woods. They suddenly had a lot more time to think about something that had nagged them for a while: The labels of “female” and “cisgender” didn’t capture who they actually were.
Their classes at University of New Hampshire had just gone online. Their work as a disability justice activist went remote.
“It was just me, myself and I,” they remember. “And I was like: ‘I can do whatever I want.’”
Good began to explore their gender more. They got rid of some stereotypically female outfits. They ordered new clothes and started wearing a binder to flatten their chest.
“I finally felt like the outside was matching the inside a little more,” Good says.
Good had a small group of queer friends and fellow activists in New Hampshire. But many parts of the state are unfriendly and in some cases unsafe for transgender and non-binary people.
Gains at the State House and in schools for LGBTQ residents meet fierce resistance from some community members and conservative activists. And local bars and venues for trans and queer people in the state have long been scarce.
As they hunkered down in their tiny house, Good spent hours on social media, making friends with others in isolation and posting questions about gender identity.
“I was like: ‘Hey, are any of you non-binary? What does that mean to you? How do you remind people to use your pronouns?’” Good says.
Good wasn’t the only one exploring and affirming their gender during lockdown. On Twitter, Good found people from all over the East Coast who were gender non-conforming, non-binary or transgender and were at various stages of coming out publicly.
Some also began hormone therapy or got gender confirmation surgery. While many encountered delays due to COVID, Good watched as friends began medically transitioning or recovering from surgery without having to navigate in-person school and work.
'An acceleration of the culture’ online during the pandemic
Good came out as non-binary and trans and changed their name and pronouns as the pandemic continued. They say they didn’t want to go back to living inauthentically once the world returned to “normal.”
Palana Hunt-Hawkins, a trans activist in Rochester, says the internet has helped connect queer and trans people who are isolated. And YouTube, blogs, and social media have helped increase visibility for LGBTQ+ people in general. In the pandemic, she’s seen this digital community grow.
“We’re all living on our screens and computers so much more,” she says. She feels there’s been an “acceleration of the culture going on — people sharing information and feeling comfortable to be who they are.”
Over the last two years, Hunt-Hawkins says, more and more people in New Hampshire have reached out to her seeking advice for coming out. She said this kind of support is essential for people who have been told their whole life to be a gender that they’re not.
“It helps to find community and realize you’re not the only person going through what you’re going through – especially in New Hampshire, it can feel like that,” she said. “It can feel like you’re just in this fog.”
The limits of virtual connections in New Hampshire
Even as the pandemic expanded virtual support to some, the limits of in-person community have still been harmful to many.
Limited mental health services, lack of support at home from housemates or family members, and the financial and health impacts of the pandemic have made coming out unsafe and impossible for some.
For Jules Good, integrating their gender identity into their day job has been rocky. As Good returned to in-person work, most people at their office in Concord ignored their pronouns. Good says they get less-friendly responses when they wear their binder or androgynous outfits.
Last fall, Good learned about auditions with the Portsmouth theater Dive In Productions for Jesus Christ Super Star.
The announcement online read: “Please note: all roles in this production will be cast as female-identifying, non-binary, or trans actors.”
Good showed up and got cast as Jesus. Fury Sheron, who plays Judas, is also non-binary.
Sitting in the musty upstairs of the nineteenth-century Players Ring theater before rehearsal, Good and Sheron say the production is one of the first in-person communities they’ve found since the pandemic that fully welcomes their gender identity.
When they met each other on the first day of rehearsal, they each recognized a kindred spirit.
“I was like – you’re non-binary, right?” Good remembered.
“What was cool is that it was assumed,” Sheron, 25, said. “This is the first space I’ve ever been in my whole life where it’s like: ‘Oh, okay, sure. It doesn’t matter – but sure,’ which honestly has been more positive and weirdly affirming than I ever thought it would be.”
'You get to be a girl … I wanted to be a kid'
Sheron has also been exploring their gender presentation this past year.
This fall, living alone and preparing for a theater production, they ordered fake sideburns for their role in Dracula. Now Sheron sometimes just wears them outside rehearsal.
Sheron says some people assume that being non-binary means they’re obsessed with gender. But that’s not true.
“I use kind of that catchall [non-binary] as a term of just default personhood,” they said. “Because I was raised as a girl and you don’t get to be a kid if you’re a girl. You get to be a girl. And I wanted to be a kid.”
Good says in spite of shifts prompted by the pandemic, their understanding of gender continues to evolve.
“I’m not a cisgender heterosexual person,” they said. “And that’s all I know about myself, is that I’m not those things. And If I gotta use a label, then [queer and non-binary] are the labels that I’ll use.”